We’ve entered the period of the fall when, in any other year, box office attendants and popcorn-poppers would be battening down the hatches in preparation for streams of families filing through the lobby as they prepare to catch the newest comic book extravaganza or Oscar contender. And while a few of those movies aren’t ready to jump ship to 2021 just yet (hello, “Wonder Woman 1984”), the pandemic has ensured that many anticipated films of hype cycles past will largely release via streaming services as they have done all year—a few choosing to bypass U.S. cinemas altogether.
David Fincher’s “Mank,” Pixar’s new adventure “Soul,” the aforementioned “Wonder Woman” sequel and Chadwick Boseman’s final performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” will all hit hit streamers in December (stay tuned for our thoughts on those films), but so will a wide variety of other previously released movies vying for your eyeballs over the Christmas season. Here is a selection of 11 (well, OK, 13) worthy of your time as you sip on eggnog or munch on candy canes.
“Chef” (dir. Jon Favreau)
Didn’t get enough helpings of dinner on Thanksgiving? Hollywood utility man Jon Favreau can help out with that. After chipping in to launch the beginning stages of the soon-to-devour-the-world Marvel Cinematic Universe, Favreau took a break from the Disney machine to write and direct the lovely, just-prickly-enough “Chef,” about a talented five-star culinary wizard who decides to embark on his own cross-country food truck operation—free from critical pressure and his restaurant manager’s scrutinizing eye. Meta, much? It’s funny to see Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson join Favreau (in minor roles) amid their own rising status in the superhero blockbuster arena, but it’s all the better that they don’t overpower “Chef’s” appetizingly seasoned themes of following your passion, and doing so alongside family. The movie’s flavor is in its modesty, and you’ll be salivating two minutes in.
“Chef” begins streaming on Netflix on Dec. 1.
“Monster House” (dir. Gil Kenan)
Didn’t get enough spooks at Halloween? Fourteen years on, the delightful “Monster House” remains an under-appreciated animated joyride, splitting the difference between family friendly and devilish in a way that looks easy for director Gil Kenan (it helps that genre maestros Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg are executive producers here). The movie doesn’t rest on the laurels of its ingenious premise alone; though it’s never less than a thrill seeing that doorframe snap into a jaw and those windows curve into leering eyes, the backstory (shepherded along by an always-reliable Steve Buscemi) provides just enough lore to stretch “Monster House” into animated classic territory. It’s a reminder about the fluidity of genre, and the ripe middle ground between “movie for kids” and “movies for grown-ups.”
“Monster House” begins streaming on Netflix on Dec. 1.
“The Beguiled” (dir. Sofia Coppola)
Tensions simmer and impulses are acted upon when a handsome Union soldier played by Colin Farrell is taken in by a small all-girls school, presided over by Nicole Kidman, so he can be nursed back to health. The intrigue in Sofia Coppola’s contemporary re-skinning of a 1971 Clint Eastwood vehicle is that you can revisit it half a dozen times and still be unable to pinpoint where character motivations sprout and shift, but it doesn’t make it any less entertaining when they clash. Boasting a great ensemble that includes Coppola mainstays Elle Fanning and Kirsten Dunst, “The Beguiled” exchanges dramatic overtones with darkly comedic ones before giving off an aroma of psychological horror, and it’s all the better that its mystical portrayal of sexual dynamics and hierarchy is shepherded along by a woman filmmaker—and one of our best, regardless of gender.
“The Beguiled” begins streaming on HBO Max on Dec. 1.
“Logan’s Run” (dir. Michael Anderson)
One of the last major works of sci-fi cinema before “Star Wars” would set a new standard, “Logan’s Run” is still worthy of appreciation for its pastel-colored costumes, imaginative design and detailed sets that usher the viewer into a strange world where all lives end at the age of 30. Is this utopia or dystopia? The 1976 film opts for practical adventure over philosophical debate, and some bits will inevitably ring of parody in 2020, but the revelations uncovered by Michael York’s Logan and Jenny Agutter’s Jessica will keep the uninitiated guessing regardless.
“Logan’s Run” begins streaming on HBO Max on Dec. 1.
“Michael Clayton” (dir. Tony Gilroy)
One of George Clooney’s best roles came in the form of Michael Clayton, a moral fulcrum navigating institutional corruption and foundational white-collar entitlement in Tony Gilroy’s 2007 thriller of the same name. To a greater degree than perhaps even Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s” trilogy, the fleet-footed and righteously anarchic “Michael Clayton” understands a fundamental truth: That one of the greatest pleasures we can gain from the movies is simply to hear Clooney talk. He does plenty of that here—with regret, with confusion, with ambivalence and finally with fury.
“Michael Clayton” begins streaming on HBO Max on Dec. 1.
“Phantom Thread” (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
The chilliness, the wintry visual palette, the somber New Year’s Eve-set scene of decidedly anti-New Year’s Eve merriment...is “Phantom Thread” a Christmas movie? The case can be made. Although that would suggest you need another reason to watch one of 2017’s best movies. In Daniel Day-Lewis’s maybe-final role, he plays the emotionally elusive and obsessively reclusive dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock, who must contend with the agency of his new muse, Alma (an astounding Vicky Krieps). As per usual for its director, “Phantom Thread” is amused with blurring the line between absurd and profound for a caustically, sensationally entertaining narrative that makes it seem as though we’re watching the origins of a ghost story rooted in romance.
“Phantom Thread” begins streaming on HBO Max on Dec. 1.
“Dr. No” (dir. Terence Young)
At this point, it will be at least a year beyond its original release date when “No Time To Die” bows in the spring of 2021, capping off Daniel Craig’s run as James Bond. That means you’ve still got time to catch up on all 24 previous 007 missions, which are spread across the various streamers at your disposal...but why not start at the beginning? “Dr. No,” released in 1962, is a modest spy movie compared to the space-faring, building-collapsing, nuclear war-preventing extravaganzas that are to come, and that only makes it easier to marvel at the confidence with which the late Sean Connery sets the standard. It may be a stretch to call “Dr. No” a scholarly endeavor, but the movie is still full of the tropes that would come to define not just the franchise, but an entire mode of moviemaking. It’s the origin story of an era.
“Dr. No” begins streaming on Hulu on Dec. 1.
“The Lords of the Rings” (dir. Peter Jackson)
2021 will (somehow) already mark two decades since the first installment of Peter Jackson’s monumental adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” epic, and the movies have fostered a reputation for being a go-to rewatch over the holidays. Many a director has attempted to fill the massive footprint of critical acclaim and pop culture cache that Frodo’s journey yielded – including Jackson himself, via the comparatively haggard “Hobbit” movies – but their success is largely defined by how awkwardly they stumble in the process. There have been few endeavors in the history of cinema like the one taken by Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema at the turn of the century, and though Denis Villeneuve’s looming multi-part “Dune” project presents another chance for the cinematic fantasy epic to reclaim its former glory, there is still one trilogy to rule them all.
The entire “Lord of the Rings” trilogy begins streaming on Hulu on Dec. 1.
“She Dies Tomorrow” (dir. Amy Seimetz)
One of those movies that 2020 anxieties turned into an unexpectedly timely work, the existentialism of “She Dies Tomorrow” is tuned to a key of inexplicability that not many other recent films have come close to matching. Foregoing narrative clarity for psychological despair, the conundrums and contradictions of Seimetz’s movie comes down to a perversely heady inquiry: What if you became so fixated on your impending death that even thinking about anything else was impossible? There’s a growing sense you get while watching “She Dies Tomorrow,” with its neon-colored depictions of mental apocalypse and horror-adjacent flourishes, that the film’s impact lies not in what we see on the screen, but in what festers in our mind after the credits have rolled. Its reach feels infinite.
“She Dies Tomorrow” begins streaming on Hulu on Dec. 4.
“God’s Own Country” (dir. Francis Lee)
Before his 2020 drama “Ammonite” paired up Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, English writer-director Francis Lee used a tactile touch and potent sense of pathos to make up for an absence of starpower in his remarkable 2017 debut, “God’s Own Country.” The movie concerns the pent-up frustrations of Josh O’Connor’s Johnny Saxby, a young farmhand whose coiled capacity for connection is unexpectedly sprung open by a Romanian worker, Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), who arrives to help his family with tending to the cattle. Physical attraction sparks amid the unforgivingly biting and constantly overcast hills of rural England, and it’s a testament to Lee’s stripped-down screenplay that “God’s Own Country” remains just as absorbing once the chilliness has been chipped away.
“God’s Own Country” begins streaming on Hulu on Dec. 5.
“Rango” (dir. Gore Verbinksi)
The Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2011 went to “Pirates of the Caribbean” director Gore Verbinski’s Wild West tale about a thespian chameleon, a Bill Nighy-voiced rattlesnake villain with a six-shooter for a tail and a deconstruction of the fading Western mythos against the backdrop of encroaching civilization. The only thing weirder than thinking about the individual elements of “Rango” is watching them in harmonious symphony. The movie’s animation style is by turns eerily photorealistic and cartoonishly zany, and if you pay close attention you might spot a particularly thrilling sequence around the movie’s midpoint that rings of the visual madness in “Mad Max: Fury Road”—even though George Miller’s action masterpiece wouldn’t arrive until four years later.
“Rango” begins streaming on Netflix on Dec. 28.